Barry Massey, Sentenced to Life for Crime He Committed at 13, Loses Shot at Clemency Recommendation Because He Fell in Love

barry and rhonda massey.jpg
Barry Massey, one of the youngest people ever to be sentenced to life in prison, came back to the state Clemency and Pardons Board today looking for another shot at mercy. Governor Chris Gregorie turned down the board's recommendation for clemency four years ago, and since then he has only drawn more supporters locally and nationally. This time, however, a deeply-torn board rejected Massey's application.

After a hearing that stretched on for hours beyond its alloted time, with some 75 Massey supporters packing the room, the board this evening voted three to two to recommend against clemency. Massey was 13 when he participated in the 1987 robbery and murder of a Steilacoom store owner.

The board changed its mind in part because Massey fell in love. Around the time of his last clemency hearing, Massey embarked upon a relationship with a prison guard. This was no liason in a broom closet. The woman, who left the prison system after the forbidden love was discovered, later became his wife (see picture of Barry and Rhonda Massey above).

But board member Raul Almeida, among others, said he was disturbed by Massey's "error in judgement"-- a decision Almeida stressed Massey made as an adult.

He so noted because much of the support for Massey has focused on the fact that the man who has now served 24 years in prison was so young when he committed his crime.

"I can't make sense of the notion that a board that was inclined to grant clemency four years ago is now inclined to deny it because he engaged in the most basic and positive endavor," board member Amanda Lee countered.

It seems particularly crazy since just about every study out there says that ex-convicts are less dangerous to society if they have loved ones to support them.

But Massey's love wasn't his only problem. The board scheduled Michael Harris, Massey's former co-defendant who had also applied for clemency, to come before it on the same day. And Massey and Harris offered starkly contrasting versions of the crime. Both suggested that the other was the major player.

"I'm troubled that both sides want to throw each other the bus," said board member John Turner.

Harris drew only a few supporters and prompted virtually no agonizing by the board, which unanimously voted against his petition. A couple of board members cited Harris' failure to engage in therapy.

But Pierce County prosecutor John Sheeran, who made it clear that he bitterly resented Massey's cause celebre status and argued vehemently against clemency, had a different explanation. "Mr. Harris' crime was that he was two years older than Mr. Massey."

The board's decisions are not the last word. The governor has the ultimate power over clemency. Gregoire has been reluctant to grant clemency in the past (see SW's cover story on the guv and clemency), but it's possible she could be influenced by one Massey supporter she knows particularly well: her former chief counsel, Richard Mitchell.

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